United States Capitol. Photo: Chas Hundley

Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus emergency bill

After weeks of negotiations, the Senate passed a spending bill on Thursday, March 5 to combat the spread of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, in the U.S. The bill had already been approved by the house, and was signed by President Trump.

As of Tuesday morning, at least 26 people in the U.S., most in Washington, have died as a result of COVID-19.

Merkley is definitely running

Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s junior senator flirted with a presidential run in 2019, where he would have joined nearly 30 democrats in a crowded primary field. Ultimately, he decided not to throw his hat in the ring. 

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Not so for the Senate, where he’s definitely running, after filing his intention to seek a third consecutive seat with the Oregon Secretary of State on March 5. 

“The 2020 election marks an historical crossroads,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley in a press release. “Since 2016 we have seen the reality of a Trump Presidency and a McConnell Senate. They have extinguished Lady Liberty’s torch and locked children in cages. They have fostered hate and bigotry, empowered polluters, taken away people’s health care, cozied up to dictators abroad, and shunned our allies."

“I know that our nation is better than this. I am running for reelection because I want to fully invest in a future where we stomp out corruption, invest in the building blocks for working families to succeed, and address climate chaos by building a clean energy economy. I hope you will join me in this fight!”

The Senator has not drawn a challenger in the May 19 primary, though several Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination to take on the eventual Democratic winner in November. 

Six states hold primaries today

Six more states will hold Democratic Party primaries or caucuses today: Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington and North Dakota. With the contest whittled down to two candidates with a fighting chance and also Tulsi Gabbard, the race to take on president Donald Trump in November will be between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

SNAP moves online in pilot program

Speaking of Merkley, the senator announced an initiative to allow Oregonians to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase food online from Amazon and Walmart in a pilot program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Merkley is the Senate’s top democrat on the funding subcommittee that oversees USDA

“For hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, SNAP benefits are the difference between being able to afford food or going to bed hungry,” said Merkley. “But between coordinating transportation, working multiple jobs, and staying home to take care of loved ones, accessing a grocery store can be a big challenge, especially given the lack of full-service grocery stores in so many lower income neighborhoods. This pilot program will test an innovative way to overcome that problem, so we help more families keep food on their tables.”

According to the senator’s office, Oregon has over 600,000 SNAP recipients.